Rejection of Anti-Homosexual Ad Sparks Federal Lawsuit

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - The conservative group, Focus on the Family, is suing a Florida public transit authority for refusing to allow an advertisement of an upcoming anti-homosexual conference.

Focus on the Family wanted to display the ad in the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's (PSTA) bus shelters. The ad would have read, "Addressing, understanding, and preventing homosexuality in our culture."

The Liberty Counsel, a non-profit legal defense organization specializing in religious liberties, filed the federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of Focus on the Family.

Liberty Counsel President Matthew Staver said the November 10 conference, to be held in Tampa, is intended to, "[address] the issue of homosexuality ... in youth, and generally in the culture."

Staver said the Clearwater-based transit authority has refused to post advertisements for Focus on the Family's anti-homosexuality conference for the second year in a row.

"Last year Focus wanted to do a seminar in the Tampa Bay, Fla. area that addressed homosexuality in youth, [and] the advertisement that they sought to display on the bus shelters in Pinellas County [used the phrase] 'Addressing, understanding, and preventing homosexuality in youth,'" Staver said. "The ad was originally accepted and then rejected because of the word 'preventing' homosexuality."

Liberty Counsel contends that a contract between the PSTA and Eller Media, the transit authority's advertising agency, is unconstitutional. The contract prohibits the display of ads that are "socially embarrassing," "likely to hold up to scorn or ridicule any person or group of persons," or that could be termed "objectionable."

"We believe that that vague and broad language is unconstitutional because it doesn't set any guidelines, and it allows someone to censor speech because he or she disagrees with the message.

"It's a public entity that is controlling the content of speech, and that is why it is unconstitutional," he said.

Staver also contends that the First Amendment prohibits the PSTA from refusing Focus on the Family's advertisement.

"What we are asking for is for the court to expedite the ruling so that we will have some kind of ruling in time for the November 10 conference, [and for] the court to ... stop enforcement of this policy that allows the discrimination and allows the [poster to be posted] at the bus shelters," said Staver.

Staver is confident that The Liberty Counsel will win the suit because it won a similar federal case against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) during the late 1990s.

"That particular case involved censorship of an advertisement [in] a transportation terminal area, and the Court of Appeals ruled 3-0, that such censorship by a public entity in a public area was unconstitutional," Staver said.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Director Roger Sweeney did not return several phone calls seeking comment on the Focus on the Family lawsuit.